Save the Sound finds worsening fecal contamination in 2015

Save the Sound’s third year of water quality testing in Westchester shows an increase in fecal contamination levels in the rivers, brooks, and creeks that feed Long Island Sound. Results in Greenwich, Connecticut, were more encouraging.

As a group, 79% of the river samples failed safe swimming criteria when tested this summer, compared with 34% in 2014. Embayment and shoreline locations failed for safe swimming 34 percent and 35% of the times sampled, respectively, a similar result to 2014 testing.

“The high bacteria levels we are finding in the rivers and streams that run through our communities are incredibly concerning,” said Tracy Brown, director of Save the Sound’s Western Long Island Sound program. “Looking at the data, it is clear that not all our wastewater is making it to the treatment plants—untreated sewage is escaping into waterways which ultimately carry bacteria to the Sound. We hope the results of our testing will galvanize public support behind badly-needed investment in our sewage collection system. We need to inspect and repair the sewer pipes and septic systems in Westchester County if we hope to restore our rivers and streams to health and keep this polluted water from reaching our beaches.”

The study included 31 sampling sites on 12 area tributaries—Mamaroneck River, Byram River, Hutchinson River, Sheldrake River, Beaver Swamp Brook, Blind Brook, Premium River, Pemberwick Creek, Otter Creek, Mianus River, Horseneck Brook, and Guion Creek. This was the third year of monitoring bacteria levels in Westchester County and the first year sampling in Greenwich for Save the Sound, which is a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. This year Save the Sound trained 25 volunteers who collected over 400 samples at 52 testing sites in 11 towns from late June through mid-September.

Two sites on the Hutchinson River show the highest fecal contamination levels in the 2015 study, followed by sites on the Mamaroneck River, Byram River, Sheldrake River, and Blind Brook.

One site that showed slight improvement over last year was Sheldrake Lake in Mamaroneck, which had no failing samples this year, and one failing sample 2014. However Sheldrake River, downstream of the lake, showed an increase in fecal contamination levels and frequency consistent with the other river sites.

The cleanest site in the study, in terms of fecal contamination levels, was at Taylor Lane in the outer Mamaroneck Harbor. The next-cleanest sites, all in Greenwich, were Greenwich Cove, Indian Harbor Yacht Club, and Byram Park. The site on Taylor Lane is only a mile from sites in the inner harbor that had high concentrations of fecal contamination, illustrating how local this type of pollution is.

“We’re sharing the fecal contamination measurements we are taking with the public and municipal officials, and we hope they with use this data as a tool to track down pollution sources and to prioritize investment in clean water. Without this type of data, water pollution is largely invisible until someone gets sick,” said Brown. “Save the Sound is grateful to the 25 volunteers who worked with us all summer and made the expansion of our sampling program possible. We continue to encourage all members of the public to be on the lookout for water pollution and report anything they see to the appropriate authorities and to us at [email protected]

Save the Sound tests for Enterococcus and fecal coliform bacteria, two EPA-approved indicators of fecal matter, and analyzes the samples in a lab made possible by an EPA Citizen Science Equipment Loan Program.

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